“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours’ (Luke 15:31).”
We create a great deal of pain for ourselves because we do not really understand the difference between welcoming, enjoying and receiving the blessings of God with gratitude, on the one hand, and becoming attached to and possessive of those same blessings, on the other. This is equally true of material blessings, such as money, a house, or emotional or relational blessings, such as happiness or popularity. The moment we become possessive of these blessings, they take a surprising and powerful hold on us. We become anxious about them, we guard them and we become fearful and angry if we perceive that someone or something threatens to take them from us.
Think of the older son in the parable of the prodigal which we have been considering. The father says to him, “All that is mine is yours.” Allow those words to sink in for a moment. The father shares all that he has with his son. It is an open and generous sharing. Unfortunately, the older son has somewhere along the line become ill-content with simply receiving and being grateful for the father’s gifts; he has taken possession of them, like a two-year old having a tantrum: “Mine!” “Mine! I deserve it!” This is evident from the manner in which he responds to the news that his father has thrown a party for the returned prodigal. “All these years I’ve been slaving for you…. Yet you never even gave me a young goat… And when this son of yours… comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” A terrible thing has taken place because the older brother has become attached to his position and status (the favored son) and his deserved reward (surely the fattened calf should be his). He has stepped outside of that space where he is open, receptive and grateful; and he has entered a dark space where he is attached to and possessive of the blessings he wants.
It is remarkable how liberating it can be to enjoy the gifts of God without needing to control or possess them. You can thoroughly enjoy a moment of happiness without having to cling to it (and in so-doing wring the very life out of it). You can delight in a moment of popularity without worrying about how to make it last longer. You can appreciate a friendship without needing to become possessive. You can enjoy your gifts, without comparing how they line up with someone else’s. You can be grateful for financial provision without having to be anxious about it. The space in which we are open, receptive and grateful for the gifts of God is the space in which faith and gratitude thrive.